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WB wishlist hinges on business

First priority is to build New Harmony Chair and replace crystal chair


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If the 2012/13 fiscal year shapes up the way Whistler Blackcomb wants it to, the company's wish list of big capital projects could start coming true.

Top of the list is the new multi-million-dollar Harmony Chair on Whistler Mountain, the go-ahead hinging in part on strong Christmas business numbers.

That upgrade would then pave the way for the much-anticipated changes to the Crystal zone on Blackcomb.

But excitement of the upcoming capital investment has to be tempered with this caveat said Doug Forseth WB's vice president of planning, government relations and special projects: the spending depends on business levels.

"We've been on our own now for the last couple of years," said Forseth, referring to the timeline of when the company left the Intrawest collection of resorts and went public.

"Two years on our own have actually been pretty good. We're hoping to be somewhat in the game to be doing some things."

In the capital-intensive ski industry, Whistler Blackcomb officials know only too well that significant projects such as the most recent addition of the $53 million Peak 2 Peak Gondola are crucial to keep the competitive edge. In the last few years, in the floundering global economy, and amid the big changes to the company itself, there have been no significant capital projects undertaken.

Last year, however, WB welcomed the return of destination guests in higher numbers and saw their impacts on its bottom line.

This Christmas period, as well as the winter season in general, is looking promising at this point.

"We are seeing strong pace," said Louise Walker, Tourism Whistler's vice president of marketing and strategic planning.

The pace for the Christmas time period — December 23 to January 2 — is 14 per cent ahead of last year at this time. Last year was one of the busiest winters on record.

Walker added that January, February and March are all pacing ahead of last year with more rooms booked now compared to this time last year. She called it "a confident start to the season."

The Harmony project would see the high speed Harmony Express quad replaced with a new high-speed six-seater chair.

The quad would then be moved across the to Blackcomb Mountain and put in at Crystal. The top terminal would be where the Crystal Chair is today, but the bottom terminal would be where Ridge Runner and the rescue road come together, capturing the skiers and riders coming out of the Blackcomb Glacier, Ridge Runner and Rock and Roll.

But that project too has a hefty pricetag — another several million dollars. That includes the additional snow making requirements and run development needed to balance the Crystal terrain with the bigger, faster chair.